There is a message for us in the creative life of Arthur Conan Doyle, who tried to kill off his most immortal creation.
Doyle got tired of writing the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and wrote a stirring final episode in which the famed detective dies. The public outcry was such that he had to bring Sherlock back.
As an alternative to Holmes’ death, Doyle instead breathed life into new characters, notably the bombastic but brilliant Professor George E. Challenger and the three friends with whom he discovers The Lost World. Instead of destruction (killing Holmes), Doyle chose the creative act of assembling an entirely different iconic character.
While the world largely knows Challenger through The Lost World, there are four other tales, three of which are collected in The Poison Belt, my latest little product under the Richardson Press emblem. In the title novella, the four adventurers reunite to face a graver threat than dinosaurs: a section of outer space the Earth is passing through that may result in the death of the human race itself. In “The Disintegration Machine,” Challenger investigates an inventor who claims to have created a device that can scramble a person’s atoms and then bring him back — sort of an early version of Star Trek’s transporter. And “When The World Screamed,” the professor theorizes that Earth is one giant living being, and he proposes to get that being’s attention. Still to come to complete my little Challenger trilogy: The Land of Mist, a novel steeped in the spiritualism that marked Doyle’s later years.
The lesson from Doyle’s work: Don’t dismiss the good you’ve done before. Do keep finding new ways to exercise your creative chops.
Challenger is not as immortal as Holmes — but The Lost World and its sequels are still something special nearly 100 years later.